Friday, December 05, 2008

An Irish-Catholic Tale, Part X

Of all the siblings, the two youngest sisters have the hardest stories to write. I don't think it possible for a blog to convey the depth of experiences, both tragic and triumphant, that belong to Kathleen and Rita.

I conveyed my struggle to Himself about writing their stories. He inspired me by saying, "It's almost the same story, hon. You could write them both together." I've thought it over and couldn't believe how right he was.

As I posted in January, we just lost Rita this year. This wound is raw and my eyes smart with tears at the typing of that sentence. That said, I know the worst thing we could do is not talk about her anymore. I'm so afraid of dishonoring her memory! Still, I want everyone to know how amazing she was.

[Deep breath]

Kathleen was 2 and Rita maybe 8 months old when Chet died due to the complications of alcoholism. Growing up without a father in the house had its effect. Growing up with alcoholism in the family would have an even stronger effect, even though "the alcoholic" wasn't exactly present.

Alcoholism is weird that way.

Kathleen certainly had the run of the house and did as she pleased until Aunt Sarah showed up. Rita had the privileged title of Baby of the Family. Both were adorable!

Rita and Kathleen with Grandpa CT. To be blonde and blue-eyed in California in the 40's!

The girls attended the same schools, shared rooms and clothing. As they grew into their teens, they also unfortunately shared poor judgment of character. To be honest, though, both were deceived.

What is it about those of us who grew up in alcoholic homes? How is it we feel so wise, and yet are so unwise? While Kathleen and Rita didn't grow up with an alcoholic father in their home, they still had the hereditary effect of alcoholism to deal with. Remember, Uncle Matt and Uncle Bill both used the garage room as a place to crash and get sober. In the 40's and 50's, there wasn't the education on the effects of alcohol that we have today.

The ugly truth is this: Children of alcoholics tend to seek out and marry alcoholics.

Kathleen married Bill W. a year out of high school at age 18. Rita married David R. shortly after at age 19, though I don't know 100% whether David was an alcoholic or not. Both Kathleen and Rita would eventually have five children.

In this photo, David and Rita are in blue on the left. Kathleen and Bill are on the right. Himself is partially hidden by his brother, Dan, with his dad's arm on his shoulder.

Rita has dressed her girls in pink and is holding her son, Chris. Shannon, her youngest, wasn't born yet. All W children are present in their hip and happening 70's clothing!

Kathleen and Bill had one of those marriages that was both rocky and wonderful. Bill loved Kathleen deeply and she him. They both loved their children tremendously. Alcohol destroyed this family, however, and left scars for the children to battle continually. Bill and Kathleen divorced in the 1970s. Bill would eventually get the help he needed and rebuild his relationship with his children - today he is our beloved "Poppa" and I love him madly!

Kathleen would remarry to yet another alcoholic in 1980. The children would scatter to various relatives until they were on their own. Yet love is stronger than alcohol in this family. The children are close to their parents and each other to this day.

Sadly, Kathleen's husband died of cancer in 1992, leaving her widowed. She is currently living in the Palm Springs area where she is close to most of her children and grandchildren (except us east coasters). Kathleen struggled with alcoholism until the 1990's. She's now triumphantly sober and helping so many who are hurting.

Rita struggled with alcoholism herself. In 1970, she firmly decided to get help and became sober. I believe she was the first in her family to do so! She remained sober until the day of her death. She seemed so wise and so strong to me. I don't recall her nagging her other alcoholic relatives about their choices, but I do recall her cheerfully saying things like, "I'll save a seat for you at the AA meeting!" Her experiences also led her to say things to Himself such as, "You poor Ws, you don't stand a chance." A prophetic statement to be sure.

Rita's marriage ended in an unfortunate divorce. In 1982 she met and married Bill S. - they loved each other completely. Rita's children are beautiful, every one of them! At my wedding I passed by this table of beautiful people and they all stopped their conversations and smiled at me. I was shocked, because I wasn't used to beautiful people doing that! (A month later it dawned on me that I was the bride, so of course they would stop and smile!) That table was full of Rita's children.

An aside to Himself: ya know, ya could'a introduced me to your family that day! How embarrassing!

As with Kathleen's children, Rita's children have also had to battle with the effects of alcoholic parents. They are also extremely close and supportive of each other. Rita's husband, Bill, died in 2006. Rita was a quiet, firm picture of strength and endurance.

At Christmas last year, Rita posed with all of her equally beautiful grandchildren:

Oh come on . . . can we just say it? GORGEOUS. The stunning teens in the back were so young when we left California. It blew me away to see this photograph!

No one knew then how wonderful it would be to have all of her grandchildren (except baby Matteo, not yet born) together at Christmas.

Three weeks later, Rita was gone.

Friends, if you're thinking of blowing off any family members this Christmas, don't. No one is guaranteed tomorrow. No one.

Rita was engaged to Bob C. at the time of her death.

The recap on the sisters:
Both married shortly out of high school.
Both had five children.
Both had tumultuous first marriages, ending in divorce.
Both struggled with alcoholism.
Both overcame and attained sobriety.
Both remarried and then were widowed.
Both have at least 10 grandchildren!
Both are amazing women whom I'm privileged to know and have known.

While this does wrap up the children of Chet and Rosie, I still have a few more tidbits to tell on them. I would also definitely like to take the family tree through Himself's own familiar branch, starting with Bill and Kathleen. You can bet I have tons of pictures . . . but the story itself is truly amazing!

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